Otherwise known in Gaelic as "Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta na h-Alba", the Scottish Nationalist Party is a social democratic platform centred around the eventual independence of Scotland. Since 2011, the Scottish National party is considered to be a majority government. To fully appreciate the impact that this party has (and will have) in regards to the potential for independence, it is important to take a brief look into its history.
Foundations of the Scottish Nationalist Party
The roots of the SNP can be traced back to 1934. This organisation was formed from a combination of the Scottish Party and the National Party of Scotland. It is widely agreed that John MacCormick was the leading figure behind its inception. He intended to create a unified front within Scotland, as the belief was that such strength would increase the efficacy of the party as a whole.
It is interesting to note here that the SNP did not initially seek complete independence. On the contrary, the main goal of Mr. MacCormick was to secure a limited amount of autonomy (such as in reference to the Scottish Assembly) within the United Kingdom. This position was not embraced for very long and soon after the inception of the party, the primary focus returned to complete independence.
The Early Years and Infighting
One of the main issues which gripped with Scottish Nationalist Party from the 1930s well through to the 1970s was an ongoing debate as to whether the SNP should strive for complete independence or a political devolution from the United Kingdom. This caused Mr. MacCormick to leave the party in 1942 to be succeeded by professor Douglas Young. Mr. Young proved to be more radical of a figure; perhaps best known for urging Scots to refuse conscription during the Second World War.
The Departure of MacCormick and Post-War Strife
Another issue that the party encountered was that when Mr. MacCormick left and established the non-partisan Scottish Covenant Association, many SNP members followed suit. This deprived the party of much of its power and for a time, the Scottish Covenant Association represented a potent political threat to the SNP.
It was not until 1945 that the Scottish Nationalist Party won its first seat in parliament and even this position did not last for very long. Low levels of support further defined the post-war period and well into the 1950s.
Notwithstanding the rather marred years during the 1950s, the SNP began to become more organised throughout the 1960s. A growing number of recognised branches throughout Scotland was a direct result. Many feel that the attitude of the organisation throughout the decade was summarised quite well with a statement made by political figure Winnie Ewing. She famously stated "Stop the world. Scotland wants to get on." This observation was reinforced when the SNP garnered no less than 40 per cent of votes during the 1968 Local Council Elections.
During the first half of the 1970s, the Scottish Nationalist Party again experienced slight fragmentation such as when members left in 1973 to form the Labour Party of Scotland. However, the movement soon faded and most returned to the SNP. Much of this early stagnation was offset when a massive supply of oil was found in the North Sea. By emphasising how oil could improve the lives of average Scots, the party enjoyed pronounced success. This was highlighted in 1974 when the party held 11 parliamentary seats and enjoyed more than 30 per cent of all Scottish votes.
One of the main stumbling blocks that the SNP faced was when it failed to achieve the 40 per cent of the votes that were needed to endorse an independent Scottish parliament. This signalled a slight decline in terms of confidence and subsequently, several factions such as the 79 group and Siol nan Gaidheal formed. During this time, the poll share of the SNP declined to 17 per cent and only two seats were held in parliament.
This decade saw factionalism become much less prevalent; partially due to the collapse of the Scottish Labour Party after the elections of 1979. Many former members understandably turned to the SNP. However, the party still performed poorly in both the 1983 and the 1987 elections. Leaders such as Jim Sillars claimed that the Scottish Nationalist Party needed to provide voters with reasons why independence would be beneficial. Socio-economic reforms were also given a greater importance. By the end of the decade, the SNP had once again organised itself into a viable political entity.
The election of Alex Salmond in 1990 highlighted that the SNP had embraced a left-of-centre social democratic stance. As this new leader was known for his wit and intelligence, this charisma boosted the popularity of the SNP throughout Scotland. While progress was slow, the party garnered 35 out of a total of 129 seats within the newly formed Scottish parliament during the 1999 general elections.
The early 2000s saw the return of Alex Salmond as party leader. Many previous opponents backed his candidacy and he was elected after the 2005 general elections. While six seats were gained within the Westminster parliament, the overall voting share within the Scottish parliament fell to 17 per cent. This was offset by a resurgence during the 2007 general elections and perhaps more importantly, with the landslide victory that occurred in 2011.
The recent 2014 campaign for Scottish independence illustrates the impact that the SNP has upon politics within the United Kingdom. While the motion was ultimately defeated, party membership increased massively. During the 2015 United Kingdom general elections, the SNP garnered an incredible 56 seats out of a total of 59.
Whilst the Scottish National Party has had some setbacks, there is no doubt that it remains a potent political force within both Scotland and the United Kingdom. It will be interesting to see what the future may hold.